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WHAT IS LOVE? by Mac Barnett


by Mac Barnett ; illustrated by Carson Ellis

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-4521-7640-6
Publisher: Chronicle Books

A boy leaves home to find the answer to the age-old question, “What is love?”

In this homey parable told in first person, an unnamed narrator asks his grandmother what love is, but instead of answering, she encourages him to go out into the world to find the answer. What follows is an episodic meeting of characters incorporating a bracketed refrain. “What is love?” the boy asks each character he meets. Each one then likens love to something that is meaningful to their life: The fisherman believes that love is a fish, the actor insists that love is applause, the carpenter thinks it is a house, and so on. However, the literal-minded boy is unconvinced by each character’s arguments. Fish are slimy and taste bad, applause is ephemeral, and hammers are dangerous. The encounters all end the same way: “You do not understand,” each character sighs. It is not until he returns as a grown man back home to his grandmother that he finally does. Static watercolor illustrations accompany the tale, giving the impression of a collection of still lifes rather than an immersive journey. And while the simplicity works well with the folk feeling and dry humor of the storytelling, it may not be the most engaging for young readers. The lesson, however, is eternal. Both boy and grandmother have beige skin, the boy’s hair black and the grandmother’s gray; other characters met are racially diverse.

Not exactly groundbreaking, but still a sweet and timeless lesson.

(Picture book. 4-8)